In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), paving the way for the country’s Native American communities to operate casino-style gaming on tribal lands.
Among the many benefits to tribal communities was economic self-sufficiency and the financial resources to invest in infrastructure and social services programs for tribal members.
“With IGRA’s passage, tribal leadership across Indian Country recognized the tremendous impact revenue from tribal gaming would have on our communities,” said Robert Miguel, chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community and first vice president of the Intertribal Council of Arizona. “Arizona’s tribes signed their first gaming compact with the state nearly 30 years ago, further establishing our tribal sovereignty and giving us the financial resources to grow and strengthen our tribes’ infrastructure. This economic opportunity continues today as a source pride for tribal members.”
Today, there are 24 Class III casinos and dozens of hospitality enterprises on tribal land statewide. Here is a look at how several successfully lift up their tribal communities through sound business practices as well as how they showcase their proud cultures:
As trusted caretakers of the Gila River Indian Community’s storied history, Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass fosters a passion for philanthropy that benefits the Community whenever possible. The resort allows meetings booked the opportunity to give back to the Community. If a group is interested, the resort’s cultural concierge meets with the planner to pick a philanthropic program. The resort team also volunteers regularly in the Community through organizing toy drives, serving Thanksgiving dinners, hosting educational programs, holding raffles and more. The architecture, design, art and legends of the Akimel O’otham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) tribes are celebrated in every detail imaginable. Traditional native roundhouse (Olas’ki) design is represented in the domed lobbies of the main resort, the Whirlwind Golf clubhouse and Aji Spa. All main entrances to the resort, spa and golf club face east to welcome the rising sun, as is the tradition of the Pima and Maricopa people. At Kai, the resort’s signature restaurant, chef Ryan Swanson incorporates the essence of the Pima and Maricopa tribes into the menu through native ingredients and techniques. Aji Spa features treatments designed by Pima and Maricopa caretakers using ingredients sourced from the ancient tribal lands that surround the spa. Gila River Hotels & Casinos – Wild Horse Pass is also just blocks (step, really) away, not only offering live table poker, video poker, blackjack, table games and slots, but also myriad support to the Tribe.
Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino is Arizona’s first and only tribal casino to have an international management partner, Caesars Entertainment. As the largest employer in Pinal County, Harrah’s Ak-Chin employs nearly 1,000 people, tribal and non-tribal. Through Harrah’s Development System, members of the Ak-Chin Indian Community are integrated into key areas of the casino operation, with the goal of long-term employment opportunities. A recently completed multi-million-dollar renovation expanded its hotel, dining experiences and added a spa and fitness center as well as The Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin. A central element to the renovation was a focus on the tribe’s rich history. Throughout the property, guests will see Native American-inspired artwork and design elements that highlight the culture and traditions of the Ak-Chin Indian Community. Woven baskets created by Ak-Chin Indian Community members as well as artwork created by other Native American artists is seen throughout the property. In addition, photography and sculptures fill the walls and guest areas throughout the property that reflect the rich history and pays tribute to the Community’s deep agricultural roots.
Owned and operated by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the spectacular new 166,341-square-foot We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort boasts state-of-the-art gaming, a variety of specialty fine and casual dining restaurants, live entertainment, and luxurious accommodations at the adjoining AAA Four Diamond hotel. Elements of earth, fire, water, animals and basket-weaving that are important to the tribe are incorporated throughout the resort — starting in the atrium, where the ceiling replicates a desert tortoise shell and the largest blue circle and chandelier represent Montezuma’s Well, the origin of the Yavapai people. Other culturally inspired architectural nuances include the blue path in the terrazzo floor design that represents the Verde River, the center and outer columns that showcase Yavapai basketry, other floor areas that reflect patterns of nature, and the LED light in the signature Center Bar that depicts an eagle’s wing. Everything the casino resort does benefits the 889 members that call the reservation home, from funding fire and police departments; supporting family, senior and community health services; encouraging economic, cultural and community development; hosting community events; and providing job training, educational resources and childcare.
The opening of Casino Arizona and its sister property, Talking Stick Resort marked an investment for the future of its owner and operators: the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Each property also serves as a reflection of the Community’s rich culture and history. Designed with culture in mind, both properties are home to extensive art collections. Historic artifacts are also prominently featured including jewelry, pottery and baskets. The O’odham (Pima) and Piipaash (Maricopa) tribes which make up the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community are known for their intricate baskets and pottery which are shown at both properties. Talking Stick Resort has a cultural center specifically designated to display both. Beyond some of the historic art, the resort is also home to an extensive contemporary Native American art collection. It is considered to be the largest contemporary collection outside of a museum. Further, Talking Stick Resort’s entire décor features nods to the Community from the rich blue lighting and carpeting that represent the tribe referred to as the water people. Basket weave designs have also been incorporated throughout the resort. Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort do not just showcase the culture of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, each are also a resource for education and career development. The Pathways to Success program enables Community members to work with mentors to establish and achieve career and education goals while working at the properties.